Helping Students Learn Fractions? Do you use commercial Fraction Mats? Well here’s why you should STOP using them! Find out how commercial Fraction Mats are confusing your students And see what to do INSTEAD!
Helping students learn fractions can be frustrating especially if your kids still ‘don’t get it’ even after using ‘hands -on’ materials. It’s hard to believe that even after playing with math manipulatives that kids still find fractions frustrating!
But actually there’s a really good explanation for this and it’s not always because they’re not paying attention!
If you find your students struggling to learn fractions then the chances are that they don’t really understand what the fraction tiles show them. They have played but without a purpose. In fact they have probably been introduced too early to the plastic fraction mat in a bid to make learning feel FUN! (Scroll to the end of this post for our FREE Printable!)
This post contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy here.
Helping Students Learn Fractions with Manipulatives
Separate Research by Suydham (1986) and Dr. Paul Swan found that math manipulatives are helpful but are no guarantee to learning. The research finds that manipulatives don’t teach and will not have any impact on learning if they are not used correctly.
Suydham also found that the kids may not see manipulatives how we do so they can’t use them to help them to learn.
Because we have understandings about math topics we know how to use math materials to help us solve problems. But kids don’t! They don’t understand the concept being learnt deeply enough, if at all, so they don’t know how to use the materials to help them learn.
Instead, many students learn how to use materials in a rote manner which is why they still ‘don’t get it!’ after weeks, or years of learning fractions.
For fraction tiles to be beneficial to student learning they need to be introduced for the right purpose and at the right time.
Fraction Tile Packs are great resources, but if they are used too early all they do is scaffold student understanding. This will then cause gaps and misunderstandings for your students because they did not construct the understanding for themselves. (This is why we use popsticks before introducing Base 10 Blocks for Place Value).
In short they don’t own their learning, which means they don’t get it …YET!
Before the introduction of math manipulatives kids need to explore the concept for themselves. A better way is to get the students to create their own versions of the student constructed fraction mat.
Make Your Own Fraction Mat
To understand how fractions work, in fact how anything works, we need to construct our own understanding. Math rotations or Guided math groups are a great way to to this. They give your students time and the opportunity to explore and delve deeper into a concept.
So before you go rushing to the store cupboard to get those fraction tiles out, let your students make their own ‘hands-on’ materials!
Let them create their own fraction mats or models using paper strips, circles, squares and play dough.
By going through this process of making, building and constructing your students are not just making something physical, they are actually constructing and deepening their understandings… and quite literally OWNING their learning!
Fraction Mat Materials
- Colored Card
How To Make A Fraction Mat
Fraction Lesson Planning
Being hands-on in the construction process of fraction manipulatives makes us test our knowledge of how something works, makes us use our computational thinking and problem solving skills.
If we set the task of making our own Fraction Mat then our brain becomes very active and questions start popping into our head… These questions illicit computational thinking which guide us through a problem solving process. For the best lessons for teaching fractions use the focus questions below in your planning.
“What have I got to do?”
– Understand the problem
– Decomposition: Breaking a problem down
– Logic: predicting and analysing.
“How can I do it?”
– Devise a plan
– Abstraction: Taking out unnecessary information
– Tinkering: Experimenting & playing
“Is this going to work?”
– Carry out the plan, review steps 1 & 2 & persevere
– Pattern & recognition: Spotting similarities & patterns
– Algorithm Design: a list of steps to follow
– Debugging: finding & fixing errors – Persevering
“Is this right?”
– Check & Reflect
Remember that if you go straight to using commercial materials then this learning process may be missed out! Causing kids to say “I don’t get it!”
A+ Teacher Planning Resources
Using Thinkboards To Teach Fractions
Now don’t misunderstand us, we love using manipulatives in the classroom and fraction mats, but only after the students have constructed their understanding. So you’re probably wondering “How Should I Do This in My Classroom?…
Have you ever used a Think board? This is probably our all time favourite Resource.
This is an awesome tool that can be used in so many ways. Using it will give students the opportunity to construct and OWN their understandings, in just about ANY concept! We love this resource so much we wanted to share it with you and to save you time, we have put together ONE version and attached it as a FREE download for you click the image to get your FREEBIE!
Just one condition… please share it with your Teacher friends!
Teaching Resources For A Plus Teachers
Try these other ideas for Teaching Numeracy
The A Plus Teacher has been a Primary School Numeracy Curriculum Leader and Coach for 16 years and now advisors A Plus Teaching Resources about Teaching Numeracy
The A+ Team is Passionate About helping educators to save time so that they can concentrate on the most important job in the world… Teaching! The Team Creates Time Saving, Tried & Tested, Hands-on, Teaching Resources, Ideas, Organisers, Checklists, Printables, Posters, & Games!